Downtown at Night
Growing up in the fifties was like living in a time warp when viewed from today's perspective. Hardly anything that is going on today was even thought about then. Even the best of imaginative minds were not venturing into areas to where things have gone in such a short period of time. Kids laugh today when they are told what we did for entertainment. We actually had to think things up to do but today no one has to think. Some device does it all for them. There was plenty to exercise our minds as we wondered about many things and thought about the implications and possible solutions. Today, we are living in the first generation that doesn't have to wonder about anything. Siri will give you any answer you want. Google will tell you things that Gabriel forgot. No question is too insignificant for our devices. Want to know if an earthworm feels pain when it is pierced through with a hook as it is prepared to entice a fish into the frying pan? Just ask Siri. Want to know some of the intricacies of galactic travel? She has the answer and all the answers in between those two parameters. It's a different world and I'm not sure at all that it is better.
What does a group of fourteen or fifteen year old boys do for entertainment on a hot Summer night in Tifton, GA back in the last millennium? (That makes it sound like a really long time ago.) The decade of the fifties was replete with possibilities. Most were not troublesome. Some were! One of our favorite things to do was to gather five or six friends and take a trip to downtown Tifton after about nine p.m. Why then? Well, the sidewalks were rolled up by that time and all the streets were empty. NO one was downtown but us. Not a soul to be seen. Even a dog or cat was a rarity. We would leave our house, travel about a mile down 12th Street (US Highway 41) and then another mile down Love Avenue (continued Hwy 41) to the center of town. Once there it was a weird feeling to see the town with no one there. It was deathly quiet. Nothing was moving....not even a mouse. Tifton has some wide rolling streets which provided a wonderful place to swoop around on your bike. Riding top speed down Main Street in front of the Tift Theater was a particular joy. Making wide swooping loops in the downtown intersections was something one always wanted to do in the middle of the day but night time provided the thrill of it. An occasional policeman would ride through town and look at us rather funny but they innately knew that we were causing no trouble and that we were not drug runners or packing a nine millimeter or a forty-five. Back in those days no one did that but we also knew those things would actually kill you. Kids today don't seem to get it. And, by the way, knives will cut you too.
Occasionally, there would be a car which was left overnight parked on a side street. Either it wouldn't start or the owner lived in a hotel or something. But, that was no problem to us. We would just swerve around it and keep going. No one bothered the car. No one vandalized it. No one had to search it for explosives or contraband. It was just there. No problem. In today's world, a bomb squad would be called in to check out the automobile in question. But, in our day....somebody just simply left a car downtown overnight.
But anyway, back to the bike riding. This trip downtown was not all that easy. The hills on Love Avenue were brutal to kids who had old fashioned bikes. What we did was before the advent of the English bikes with gears and little bitty tires. Our bikes were the ones with the balloon tires and no gears. You were the gears whether on a straight away or a hill. Many was the time that we had to get off our bikes and push them up a hill. Just too tired to make the grade. Not enough low gear stamina. One could stand up on the pedals but the bike would simply stand still from the effects of the hill. Time to get off and walk a spell. Most of the guys would customize their bike by taking the fenders off leaving just the wheel showing. This was really cool looking but it was a definite disadvantage when you went through a mud puddle or got caught out in the rain. Front and back you were covered by a narrow strip of mud. But no fenders were cool.
Once home again about eleven o'clock my mother would say: "Where have ya'll been so long." "Downtown riding the streets, Mama." She never asked any other questions. I guess she was just glad we had made it home. My, how times have changed. Kids of today think they have to have something exciting to do dangling in front of their faces twenty four hours a day and they are bored stiff if they don't. If something is not planned to entertain them all day then they will lapse off into an hours long session of their faces shoved into the screen of an iPad or phone playing some meaningless game that is in the process of shrinking their brains. In earlier days kids actually got out and played. They made up games and things to do. They exercised and had genuine fun. We didn't spend all day "killing" people in a video game. We played ball or tag or rode our bikes. We flew kites or went squirrel hunting with a "flip" or pellet gun. We actually used our imagination to entertain ourselves. It was fun. It wasn't just a way to keep our attention. Bike riding in downtown Tifton was a fun event. It would be boring today. In fact it would even be dangerous to do with society the way it is. I really feel sorry for the kids of today in that they won't ever have the kind of fun we had riding our bikes Downtown at Night.
William F. Harrell